Today is the first anniversary of my sister’s death. I am not so sure about formal remembrances and rituals. However, I do feel like sharing some of my thoughts from 2013, my first year without my sister.

Mostly, the past months have surprised me. Little has been how I might have predicted it, echoing the experience of Joan Didion following her husband’s death:

‘Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it’

The initial period was relatively easy to manoeuvre. I got on with my life as if on autopilot. I remember being grateful that I was alive, and resolutely determined to make the most of my own living. My sister’s death also reminded me of my mother’s grief when her mother and her sister died in relatively quick succession. I was a teenager at the time, the youngest of five children, and the only one still living at home. I was thus unrelentingly exposed to my mother’s ‘decline’, as sadness and doom enveloped her and those around her. I did not want a similar experience for my own teenage daughter, who was herself traumatised by her aunt’s death. Instead, I worked on negotiating a path where we could keep my sister’s loss a presence in our lives, but one that would not destroy us.

To some extent we managed this. However, how we respond to loss cannot be completely controlled and contained. When I have experienced loss previously in my life, I have noticed how delayed my personal response to the trauma of the experience can be. So it was on this occasion. As the acute distress around the dying period and the death itself eased, the loss that evolved from the death manifested itself acutely. Yet the clichés are also true. Life does go on, and passing time does facilitate a living with loss that is manageable. I have not experienced anger at any point. Regret, yes. Guilt, some. Mostly, my emotional volcanoes consist of random and unpredictable moments of acute pain, which are so cataclysmic that every time I feel they will overwhelm and destroy me. But of course they do not. Reassuringly or fatalistically, you continue getting on with your life in the ‘club of the left-over living’.

My sister is buried in another country. I am sad about this. Her graveside is a place I would like to spend time. Yet, for the memorial mass today, I chose not to attend. My other sisters did. The experience of loss has been different for all of us, and not one we have easily been able to share.

What has surprised me most of all, is how much I miss my sister. Living in different countries, we communicated infrequently, and spent time together just a few times a year. Yet, as time goes on, the fact that we will never have those times again fills me with a sadness that is as infinite as her loss.

My sister was older than I am, and so, until this past year, she had always been in my life.

I miss the fact of her, her living and energetic being. I miss how much she used (sometimes) to annoy me. I miss her loyalty and absolute support. I miss her reckless generosity.

I miss.

CQ

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